Ari Roth

Ari Roth is a producer, playwright, dramaturg, educator, songwriter, and child of Holocaust refugees. He served as Artistic Director of Theater J from 1997 to 2014 and established Mosaic Theater Company of DC in late December of 2014 as its Founding Artistic Director.  

A native of Chicago’s South Side, Roth attended the University of Chicago Laboratory High School and the University of Michigan where he studied playwriting with Milan Stitt (The Runner Stumbles) and met his idol,  Arthur Miller, when Miller gave the keynote at the 50th Anniversary of the Avery Hopwood Awards in 1981, and Roth won his first award in Drama for his one-act play, The Art of Our Necessities.  Stitt helped Roth land a Literary internship at Circle Repertory Company in 1982, where he soon became the Assistant Literary Manager, then Literary Manager, and soon joined the Playwrights Lab.  In 1988, as Stitt left Michigan to head the Playwriting Program at Yale, Roth began teaching at UM and has remained on the faculty just about ever since.  From 1984 to 1997, Roth was an itinerant playwright and educator based in Cambridge, New York, Tel Aviv, and Ann Arbor, before moving to Washington DC with his family where he began his journey as an Artistic Director.  On November 18, 2020, after 24 years as an AD, Roth stepped down from Mosaic to return to a more generative role within a theatrical outfit to pursue a more personal, dialogic and intercultural programmatic vision. 

As Theater J’s third Artistic Director, Roth produced 129 productions over 18 seasons, including 44 world premieres, and created the annual festivals, “Voices From a Changing Middle East” and “Locally Grown: Community Supported Art,” alongside forums like the Peace Café (co-founded by Theater J Council and Mosaic Founding Board Members, Mimi Conway and Andy Shallal). In 2005, The New York Times praised Theater J as “the premier theater for premieres . . . and its artistic director, Ari Roth [who] offers a rare mix of professional polish, thoughtful dramaturgy and nervy experimentation.” Veteran writers who enjoyed world premieres at Theater J include Wendy Wasserstein, Richard Greenberg, Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Keneally, Robert Brustein, Motti Lerner, and Ariel Dorfman, alongside rising talents like Sam Forman, Jacqueline Lawton, Stephanie Zadrevec, and local playwrights Jeanette Buck, Renee Calarco, Aaron Posner, and Caleen Sinnette Jennings. His signature Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival brought acclaim for productions like Mikveh, Pangs of the Messiah, Return to Haifa, and The Admission.  

Following the abrupt cancellation of the Festival by the DCJCC in 2014 and his controversial dismissal a month later for protesting its closure, and buoyed by support from over 120 artistic directors from across the country, Roth established Mosaic Theater Company to expand a social justice mission and make Mosaic a model of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access. Mosaic's inaugural season was heralded by The Washington Post as "one of the most significant developments in Washington theatre in years." From its first production in the fall of 2015 and over the next 5 seasons, Mosaic produced 36 full productions, including 9 world premieres (by the likes of Jon Robin Baitz, Jay O. Sanders, Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm, Caleen Sinnette Jennings, Mona Mansour, and Psalmayene 24), 50 staged readings, workshops, and “Mosaic on the Move” presentations, with over 600 post-show discussions, building a Fusion Community with audiences from all parts of the city and beyond, through candid conversation and transformational artistry. 

As a playwright, his work includes Born Guilty (based on the book of interviews with children of Nazis by Peter Sichrovsky) commissioned and produced by Arena Stage, directed by Zelda Fichandler, and more than 50 productions across the country; Peter and The Wolf (a sequel to Born Guilty) produced by Theater J, Jewish Theatre of the South; and fused as a diptych for Epic Theatre at Manhattan Theatre Club and CUNY; a family prequel, Andy and The Shadows produced at Theater J, directed by Daniela Topol, and Reborn In Berlin, workshopped at The Orchard Project (in progress; all four works are part of "The Born Guilty Cycle"). Other produced plays include Oh, The Innocents (premiere directed by Joe Mantello at GeVa); Goodnight Irene (premiere directed by Gilbert McCauley at The Performance Network); Life In Refusal (directed by Wendy C. Goldberg at Theater J); Love and Yearning in the Not for Profits (premiere directed by Joe Banno at Theater J); Still Waiting (companion to Waiting For Lefty; premiere directed by Shira Piven at Theater J) and a dozen one-acts.  His current play is My Brief Affair With The Minister (And The Downfall of My Administration). His plays have been nominated for five Helen Hayes Awards, including Best Resident Production and two Charles A. MacArthur Awards for Outstanding New Play. 

He is a 1998 and 2003 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts playwriting grant, three-time winner of the Helen Eisner Award, two-time winner of the Avery Hopwood, four-time recipient of commissions from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, recipient of the Myrtle Wreath Award from Hadassah and was named one of “The Forward 50” from The Forward newspaper honoring fifty nationally prominent “men and women who are leading the American Jewish community into the 21st century.”  He continues to teach for the University of Michigan through their “Michigan in Washington” program, and has taught at Brandeis, NYU, and Carnegie Mellon Universities, as well as several courses for Politics & Prose in DC. In 2017, Roth was given the DC Mayor's Arts Award for Visionary Leadership and was named one of "15 More People Changing the Nonprofit World" by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.